August 24, 2023 | by shivam saxena

Somewhat controversial but successful Environmental Designer, Landscape Architect,  and Developer Dr Chris Mulder whose integrated design  firm  CMAI developed Thesens Island in Knysna South Africa is honored by his former University Via Bizcommunity.com and illustrations from sources as credited:  Although I wonder if this is transferring gated suburbia to the country – despite its laudable aims to uplift the rural population and provide needed jobs – what are the costs in terms of commuting and environmental impacts?  Having said this I was impressed by Dr Mulder’s presentation at the 2010 ILASA conference, while many others were bewailing the lack of importance attached to Landscape Architecture in South Africa, and with the current economic climate the shortage of work,  Chris was positive about creating his own developments and suggested in the question and answer sessions of the conference  that Landscape Architects were well positioned to lead development teams in that their training encompassed more integrated and holistic views than most of the other  design disciplines and he has been a model of this both for his own development s as well as for his clients. His take on a question of mine was that If you are short of work – make it – become a developer yourself!


Texas A&M University, one of the largest universities in the US, awarded its Outstanding International Alumnus Award to South African, Dr Chris Mulder at a gala ceremony on 26 April 2011. Mulder, described as one South Africa’s foremost land planners and urban designers and innovative property developer, joins the president of Panama, the former president of Bolivia and the former minister of economic affairs of Taiwan as recipients in this award.

Dr Chris Mulder


Mulder obtained his doctorate in environmental planning and urban design at Texas A&M in 1980 and undertook post-doctoral studies at Harvard Graduate School of Design and at the University of Massachusetts before returning to South Africa.He adds this award to the honouring by the Institute for Landscape Architecture in Southern Africa (ILASA) as an icon of landscape architecture in South Africa. In its 50-year history only three of its members have been honoured in this way. On the same occasion his best-known design and planning for property development, Thesen Islands in the Knysna lagoon, received the Institute’s highest honour, its President’s Award for excellence in design.


Agri-village recognisedTexas A&M University also has six masters students in architecture currently in South Africa, working on the design of a potential satellite campus for study abroad programs for their colleges or faculties of architecture, agriculture and veterinary and community health services.The idea is to establish a satellite campus at Mulder’s latest property development, the revolutionary agri-village Crossways Farm Village on the heights above the Van Staden’s River canyon near Port Elizabeth.


In March 2011, Mulder was informed by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform that the village, together with the deprived neighbouring village of Thornhill, was to be declared a Comprehensive Rural Development Site (CRDS).


The department wrote: “We see the development as a first in South Africa where you as private investors have come up with a unique concept and method to fully involve and integrate an impoverished rural communities as beneficiaries in skills development, sustainable and on-site training as an integral part of your development. The model you have conceived has been acknowledged by the minister as a potential role model to uplift other rural communities in South Africa.”


The R3.4 billion village, which has been described as a far-reaching departure from conventional residential developments, will be fully integrated with an existing dairy farm. The development will be a modern interpretation of a rural village of yesteryear, but offering all the conveniences of contemporary town living. Some 15% of the 747 stands are intended for affordable housing.Crossways Farm Village had the unusual distinction of being approved by the Eastern Cape government last year without a single precondition attached. Earlier, it had also received the blessing of the national department of agriculture.Mulder had said earlier the operations of the dairy farm would be scientifically based and professionally run. “Once it is fully operational and generating profits, it will be ceded, debt-free, to the development. Income will be split equally between the future homeowners’ association, the farm management and the farm workers. 

“The village has been designed against the background of the increasing awareness of the importance for the future of safe access to food and water and of the need to live with the land in a sustainable manner. Everything is being done to ensure we make the best possible use of natural resources such as solar energy, while rain water will be harvested off roofs, stored and used for irrigation. The timber salvaged during the removal of alien vegetation will all be re-used on the development for garden furniture, fences, streetlamps, etc.”

New rural lifestyle


Since the completion of Thesen Islands, he has been working on a number of new residential projects which he believes will create rural development nodes that will help slow the move to urban areas. Against this background Mulder developed a concept he calls New Ruralism, combining residential property development with agriculture. In addition to Crossways Farm Village his firm is involved in similar projects at Kurland in the Southern Cape and at Velddrif on the West Coast.


“These projects, planned to have a high labour content, will not only stimulate job creation but in all instances the land on which the development is undertaken as well as the farming operations will rest in a company of which the farm workers will all own a third. In this way we want to promote land ownership amongst people who for the most part are currently unemployed,” he concluded.


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